Chapter in MC basketball history coming to a close
Special to The Clinton Courier
A chapter in the Mississippi College men’s basketball program will officially come to a close at the end of this season, as longtime Choctaw coach Don Lofton retires from the game he loves.
“It has been a blessing and an honor to be a basketball coach at Mississippi College these thirty-nine years,” said Lofton. “I’ve probably learned more from my players than they learned from me.”
A 1974 graduate of Brookhaven High School, he began his college career at Mississippi College, playing football and golf. He received his bachelor of science degree in business administration in 1978 and completed the master of education degree in 1983.
“When you think of Mississippi College men’s basketball, you can’t help but think of Don Lofton,” said Mississippi College Athletic Director Kenny Bizot. “As someone who has played for Coach D and also had the privilege of coaching alongside of him, Mississippi College has been extremely blessed to have the leadership and character of Coach Don Lofton for thirty-nine years.”
Lofton began his coaching career at Mississippi College as a graduate assistant in 1978-79, working for Coach Doug Hines. He also served in the same capacity during the 1979-80 season.
He built himself the reputation of being a top recruiter and talent evaluator. During MC’s move to Division III in the 1996-97 season, he helped recruit some of the best talent in the ASC. With him filling the role of recruiting coordinator, the Choctaws made five straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. They also won the ASC Championship three five of five seasons. During his last three seasons as an assistant, the Choctaws had five first team All-ASC selections and one ASC East Division Player of the Year.
Lofton was also a vital part of the success achieved by the basketball program during his tenure at MC as an assistant coach. As the recruiting coordinator, he was responsible for maintaining the talent level necessary to keep the Choctaws in the upper echelon of teams in the country year in and year out. He also filled the position as the primary assistant to former head coach Mike Jones and was vitally involved in building the program to where it is today.
In 2002-03, he led the Choctaws to their fourth ASC Championship in six years. MC won twenty games and appeared in the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the sixth straight year.
After taking over the program from Hall of Fame coach Mike Jones, Lofton maintained the same level of success, with four straight appearances in the ASC Championship game. That same season, Lofton kept the streak alive by leading the team to eight straight wins to end the season and reach the title game. His team also led the ASC in scoring defense. In the 2004-05, Lofton led the Choctaws to the third most wins in school history (24) and just their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament “Sweet Sixteen” round. The Choctaws were ranked #1 in the NCAA South Region ranking every week and won their seventh ASC East Division title in eight years.
In 2005-06, he led the Choctaws to a school record 29-2 season that ended with another appearance in the “Sweet Sixteen.” Lofton collected NCAA wins over Maryville University and Maryville College as a regional host of the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Choctaws were the highest ranked team in the NCAA South Region rankings the entire season.
Lofton had an incredibly successful run as head coach of the Choctaws for four years, from 2003-2006. In four seasons at the helm, Lofton produced a 92-23 overall record, including two American Southwest Conference Championships and back-to-back appearances in the “Sweet Sixteen” round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Lofton won 128 games in his second stint as head coach of the Choctaws from 2008-2019, including leading the program to the ASC Championship game for tenth time in eleven seasons in the 2008 season.
In the 2009-10 season, Lofton led the Choctaws to their twenty-second consecutive winning season and a trip to the ASC Tournament, while the 2012-13 season saw the Choctaws reach the ASC Tournament for the fifteenth time in fifteen seasons.
Coach Lofton helped guide the Choctaws back into the Division II ranks beginning in 2014. That season, he coached former Choctaw Tory Rice to earning NCCAA All-American status, while also coaching Rice and Tristan Moore to All-MidEast Region honors.
On top of his many accomplishments, Coach Lofton was also recognized and honored after the 1998-99 season by the National Association of Basketball Coaches for his outstanding service with the Merit Award.
“When I think of men’s basketball at MC, the first person that comes to my mind is Coach Don Lofton,” said former MC Athletic Director and MC men’s basketball head coach Mike Jones. “Don has been a part of the MC program longer than anyone out there. I had the privilege of working with Don for sixteen years. He and I were not only colleagues, but close friends. Don was not only a good coach but a great evaluator, recruiter, and understood the game. He played a pivotal role in the success we experienced during the time we worked together. Don has been loyal to MC and will be missed. I wish him the best in his retirement.”
While Coach Lofton has not let retirement sink in just yet, with the Choctaws currently in the hunt at making the Gulf South Conference Tournament this season, with just three regular season games remaining, he knows exactly what he plans to do once the season concludes.
“I haven’t given retirement much thought yet. However, I know my game plan is to address my health issues, drink some coffee and pet my dog,” said Lofton.